Friday, October 23, 2020

Cheltenham Showcase 2020 - a view from the cheap seats

Earlier this afternoon I watched ITV4's coverage of the first day of the Showcase meeting from the cheap seats in our front room. 

'Cheap seats' is no misnomer: they're sited at an awkward angle to the black & white TV set - viewing is difficult at the best of times and the castors broke many years ago; a pungent aroma of stale sweat and old socks emanates from the threadbare upholstery; the carpet in the vicinity is stained, torn and frayed around the edges; the paintwork can best be described as 'grubby'.

The other day I put my hand down the sides of one of the chairs and retrieved a HB lead pencil, some fluff, a 2p coin and six old betting slips. I half thought I might have chanced upon a 'sleeper'; it was nothing more than a forlorn hope.

I wasn't completely certain but I thought I'd seen something when Ocean Wind, sixth in the Festival bumper last March, carried ten stone to victory on soft in the vertem.co.uk Handicap at Doncaster.  

Then Alice Plunkett, who had a better view of the runners in the paddock than the view anyone in the cheap seats had, proceeded to tell viewers before the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase that it looked as if Rouge Vif needed the run. 

In the event, running off a mark of 156, Harry Whittington's charge, a 5/1 chance, blew away his rivals with an exhilarating display.

Tomorrow's Cheltenham card looks difficult. 

I toyed with making the case for the Paul Webber trained Boughtbeforelunch in the amateur jockeys' chase at 5.00 (form with Ballymalin and behind Manofthemountain on his seasonal reappearance) but the 10/1 on offer looks positively parsimonious so, instead, I've opted for the minefield that is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at 3.15. 

Let's get the good news out of the way first of all - with 18 declared most layers are paying five places, Sky Bet and William Hill six places.

Last year's winner Tobefair heads the handicap but, with Jack Tudor's five pounds claim, effectively races off a mark two pounds lower tomorrow; Honest Vic's fifth in the Coral Cup also catches the eye. Those are the only two runners booked to carry more than 11-00 giving the race a rather lop-sided feel; the bottom four all race from out of the handicap.

Flinck's third in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow a fortnight ago reads well enough, as does Kansas City Chief's sixth in the Pertemps Final here last March.

I've spent a bit of time on this piece of form. 

Ballon Onabudget beat Story Of Friends two and a quarter lengths over an extended trip at Newton Abbot last month (third horse Storm Home since well beaten by Neville's Cross - up 12 pounds tomorrow). 

As a result the handicapper raised both Ballon Onabudget and Story of Friends five pounds. David Pipe's runner came to the last some four lengths to the good that day but made a complete hash of it - a better jump and he would surely have secured the spoils.

The pair look closely matched yet Fergus Gillard's seven pound claim effectively means Story Of Friends races off a mark two pounds lower than at Newton Abbot. The Pipe yard has been quiet of late but I see Main Fact went in at Newbury earlier today. 

BetVictor and Paddy Power both offer 16/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Story Of Friends is the tentative each-way suggestion in a difficult race.

Off to source some 1001 carpet and upholstery cleaner - right now! 

Friday, October 16, 2020

From Ascot to Market Rasen

British Champions Day at Ascot tomorrow. 

On 28th September 1996 Frankie Dettori won all seven races on the Ascot card at cumulative odds of 25,051/1. The feat became known as Frankie's 'Magnificent Seven' and passed into racing folklore. One punter pocketed a cool £500,000; layer Gary Wiltshire lost £1.4 million.

In January 2018 Lincolnshire punter Andy Green played the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack through the small hours and, when he decided to call it a day, the sum of £1,722,923.54 was credited to his online account. However when he tried to pocket his winnings, the Betfred Frankie Dettori Magic Seven Blackjack refused to pay out - and that's when the problems started. Betfred cited a 'software error'; Andy has taken his case to the High Court. We wish him well but if things don't pan out, he wouldn't be the first punter unDone by the terms and conditions that apply. 

'Be careful what you wish for,' as they say. 

Speaking personally, and I'm sure it'll come as no surprise, I've never won big. To be honest, if you offered me just a small win once in a blue moon, I'd snap your hand off.  

Ascot may be the focus of the media's attention tomorrow but I prefer more modest Market Rasen; the similarities are few and far between although both race right-handed and tend to favour those that race prominently.

Ten have been declared for the MansionBet Best Odds Guaranteed  Prelude Handicap Chase due off at precisely 4.31. 

The two horses with the least chasing experience head the market - Red Risk and Court Master both have just four chase starts to their name. 

Top weight Red Risk hails from the Nicholls yard and is priced up favourite on the back of his 11 length win at Ludlow on soft in February. The handicapper has raised him nine pounds for that effort; this will be the first time he has raced on good ground.

Second favourite Court Master carries bottom weight and likes to race from the front. He has been raised four pounds for his victory at Warwick 16 days ago; his eighth behind Simply The Betts (beaten 28 lengths) at the Cheltenham Trials meeting in January reads well.

Last year Mellow Ben finished fourth, Luckofthedraw seventh behind Copper West; that day San Benedeto headed the handicap off a mark of 153 - this year's renewal doesn't meet that standard. 

Mellow Ben goes off a mark ten pounds lower tomorrow and, with two recent runs under his belt, appears to have been trained with this as a target. 

Course and distance winner Luckofthedraw was sent off favourite a year ago off a four pounds higher mark. He wore earplugs on that occasion and appeared anxious in the preliminaries; after the race the vet reported the gelding had received treatment for heat stress.

Fidux's second to Really Super in the Summer Plate in July reads well. He races off the same mark here (138) and has previously won off 142; he strikes me as a horse that deserves a change of luck.

Peter Bowen's form has picked up of late and I always think his runners are worth a second look here but Beggar's Wishes has been off the track a long, long time. 

Louis' Vac Pouch - seventh behind Simply The Betts in a Festival handicap in March (beaten just over ten lengths) on only his second run for current connections - catches the eye. In a recent stable tour Phil Kirby indicated they still weren't certain what the optimum trip was for this one and I was left with the impression this race is seen as a starting point with the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham a possible target.

Ravenhill Road is something of a dark horse whose chance is respected but Ashoka had a torrid time of it all last year.

I'm drawn to the horses with a recent run to their name. Mellow Ben is ten pounds lower than when finishing fourth last year and handler Chris Gordon has had  a couple of winners in the past fortnight. 

At the time of writing 10/1 has just disappeared; Mellow Ben is the each-way suggestion. 

There are interesting cards at Kempton and Ffos Las on Sunday while Sedgefield hosts the Durham National (4.33). 

At Ffos Las I'll keep a close eye on two - Thebannerkingrebel in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at 3.10 and Rose Of Arcadia in the mares' maiden hurdle at 1.30 on the back of these comments from Colin Tizzard in a stable tour feature:

"She is a very talented mare and she would have gone to Aintree where I think she would have nearly won the mares' bumper there. She has schooled well and all being well she will end up in the mares' novices' hurdle at Cheltenham as she is a very smart filly. We think she is as good a mare as we've had in training and we are excited about her."

Friday, October 09, 2020

Searching for a silver lining in Chepstow's Silver Trophy (2020 renewal)

 'Anywhere nice on holiday this year, PG?'

'Just the usual - a fortnight down the bottom of our back garden.'

'Lovely.'

It's been that sort of year.

A recent article in The Railway Magazine pointed out the chances of contracting coronavirus on a one-hour train journey were 11,000/1. If you took the precaution of wearing a facemask for the duration of the journey, the chances were calculated at 22,000/1. With odds like that and a senior railcard to hand, I decided a treat was in order - a day trip to London to catch up with daughter and boyfriend.

A pleasant stroll around Battersea Park, spot of lunch in The Lighthouse and then further restoratives taken at The Sydney Arms, Chelsea, which, last time I checked, was run by former Flat champion jock Richard Hughes.

I'm using the term 'run' rather loosely as Mr Hughes was nowhere to be seen on the day in question but I'm assuming he doesn't have an awful lot of spare time for pulling pints of Timmy Taylor's given he's currently training out of Weathercock House in Lambourn - a yard forever associated with the redoubtable Mrs Jenny Pitman and 1983 Grand National winner Corbiere.

Anyway, with Racing TV broadcasting run-of-the-mill midweek fare from Goodwood, Galway and Catterick Bridge, we decided to sit outside in the late summer sun; more close-run encounters were spotted at the Sydney St - Britten St junction than at the Catterick races. 

Earwigged at the bar: 'Let me check - yes, yes, my William Hill account is up as well.' All seems so deceptively easy, doesn't it? Unfortunately, I still haven't worked out what I'm doing wrong.

Usually around this time of year I ask my butler to dig out the tweeds and take them for their annual visit to the local dry cleaners in preparation for the season ahead. That won't be necessary this year. I recall now with a certain degree of embarrassment the time I took the tweeds on an end-of-summer jolly to the Stratford races. On that occasion, as the result of an oversight on Beeves' part, I arrived fully togged up but with a furtive mothball concealed in one of those troublesome inside pockets. I wasn't unduly pestered by low-flying insects during racing but afterwards during post-race drinks the sweet-smelling, sweet-talking Lady Fotherington-Smythe, knocking back pints of house lager faster than my odd job builder - 'Listerine' I think she called it - was memorably dismissive. Most disconcerting.

Since the resumption of racing following lockdown there appears to have been a surfeit of big-priced winners. One school of thought contends that, with no on-course market, off-course bookmakers are more willing to lay realistic odds about outsiders. At this point I should point out that the longshots I've bet since resumption have all finished exactly where the starting price indicated they should have.

British racing looks set to continue behind closed doors for the foreseeable future. Without spectators, the sport is expected to lose between £250 - £300 million this year. Trevor Hemmings is just one owner who has cut his cloth accordingly.

If you've made it this far, your perseverance is about to be rewarded with another one of my disappointing selections...

Seventeen are set to go to post for the Silver Trophy (3.57 Chepstow) with Lightly Squeeze a non-runner.

Paul Nicholls chalked up a four-timer at the track this afternoon with McFabulous impressive in the Persian War. The Ditcheat handler saddles two in this tomorrow - Saint Sonnet and Sir Psycho. 

Saint Sonnet carries top weight and I think I'm correct in saying that only one horse has carried top weight to victory since the inaugural running in 1988 - Court Minstrel obliged at odds of 40/1 in 2015 (and subsequently went on to win on the 2017 renewal as well).

Sir Psycho was extremely slick at his obstacles in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock and was not disgraced behind Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, although we shouldn't forget Goshen (declared 4.25 Goodwood, Sunday) was some 10 lengths clear of his field when coming to grief in that most dramatic of races. Bryan Carver can claim five but the four-year-old still looks quite high in the handicap and would probably prefer more cut, a comment that applies to a few of the runners. Only two four-year-olds have come home in front: Carlovent (1999); and Mr Thriller (2009). 

The Dan Skelton / Harry Skelton combination took the spoils with Shelford in 2014 and Flash The Steel last year. The brothers try for the hat-trick tomorrow with Flash The Steel now rated eight pounds higher than 12 months ago. 

I've seen the J.P. McManus owned Notre Pari tipped up in a few places. This one looked booked for a place in the Lanzarote before coming to grief at the final flight; winner Burrows Edge finished down the field in the Coral Cup off a mark of 138.

As a general rule of thumb I prefer one that has shown form over the course here. Caswell Bay boasts course and distance winning form and finished second behind Torpillo in last year's renewal of the Paul Ferguson's Jumpers To Follow 4-Y-O Hurdle but his profile is too inconsistent and, again, I think he'd prefer easier conditions.

The two that I've considered at a price are Hometown Boy and Push The Tempo.

Hometown Boy likes to race prominently and has respectable efforts behind McFabulous and Hurricane Harvey in the book although I note the majority of his racing has been on right-handed tracks. 

Push The Tempo doesn't have too many miles on the clock and will not be inconvenienced by drying ground. His third behind Chapmanshype at Kelso three weeks ago reads well; Robert Stephens' charge finished fifth behind Secret Investor in the 2018 running of the Persian War. On Racing Post ratings Push The Tempo is the one to beat, with jockey Rex Dingle able to claim three; I've noted the price being nibbled at this evening. He could 'bounce' after the long layoff before that Kelso run but, conversely, that run may give a fitness edge against those making their seasonal debuts.

At the time of writing most layers offer 20/1 and several are paying one fifth the odds five places; in a competitive affair Push The Tempo is the each-way selection.   

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Summer blues

Some summer. I've lost count of the money I've lost on holiday deposits and I've had to shell out a small fortune on facemasks and hand sanitiser.

Today's low grade handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot wouldn't normally generate much interest but desperate times call for desperate measures; if I were forced to list the negatives, this post would be longer than Delia Bushell's resignation letter and I'd struggle to publish before the off at 7.30.

A number in the field of 17 (non-runner Petrucci) aren't in the best of form and several commentators have highlighted the chance of Dan Skelton's mare Ever So Cool on the back of her fourth behind Mercian Prince (rated 122) in a novice event at Bangor in July. This is her first run in a handicap and, unsurprisingly, she's priced up favourite.

Skelton's near neighbour Robin Dickin saddles Secret Court, a mare with a similar profile who was run out of third spot in a novice event at Uttoxeter 10 days ago; winner Bit On The Side was given a rating of 121. 

Going off 100 here, Secret Court appears to have a couple of pounds in hand (according to my calculations) and looks closely matched with the favourite. The step back in trip and the good ground should both suit. 

The Dickin yard hasn't sent out a winner for 452 days so it's quite difficult to muster much confidence but those summer losses weigh heavy... 

With several layers offering 16/1 and paying one fifth the odds five places, I'm going to take an each-way interest in Secret Court

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Fresh from a pipe-opener on the Flat...

The manner in which Really Super, fresh from a pipe-opener on the Flat, scooted clear in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen yesterday set me thinking. 

Flat racing emerged from lockdown on June 1st while jump racing had to wait until July 1st. Since the resumption of jump racing, how have horses that ran on the Flat in June fared on their first run back over jumps? 

The detail below shows they've fared rather well, returning a level stakes profit of over 45 points... 

Southwell 01.07.20  

12:00 
No qualifiers; 12 ran

12:30
Issac Wonder [17F] 12/1 WINS
Azzuri [29F] 5/4f second
Tonto's Spirit [6F] 17/2 sixth
Cracking Destiny [30F] 9/2 UR; 12 ran

1:10
No qualifiers; 12 ran

1:40
Flintrock [18F] 18/1 fifth
Zenafire [16F] 33/1 eighth; 12 ran

2:10
Medalla De Oro [27F] 11/2 second
Rhosneigr [23F] 6/1 fourth
Thrave [24F] 100/30 fifth; 12 ran

2:40
Ashutor [15F] 5/4f third
Seeusoon [23F] 14/1 fourth
Harbour Sunrise [20F] 250/1 sixth
Let Rip [22F] 7/1 eleventh; 12 ran

3:10
Byron Flyer [25F] 9/2 fourth
Paseo [16F] 14/1 seventh
Final Choice [19F] 50/1 eleventh
Stynes [22F] 28/1 twelfth; 12 ran

3.40 
St Gallen [29F] 3/1f  WINS
Scorched Earth [16F] 6/1 second
Dino Velvet [22F] 4/1 third
See The Sea [25F] 16/1 fourth
Carntop [15F] 7/2 sixth; 12 ran

4.10
Hattab [22F] 13/2 third
Magellan [21F] 9/2 fifth
Prabeni [18F] 18/1 sixth; 12 ran

Southwell aggregates:
108 runners
25 qualifiers
2 winners: Issac Wonder (12/1); St Gallen (3/1f).
Profit / loss to 1 point win stake: -8 points

----------

Uttoxeter 06.07.20

12.55
Ginistrelli [26F] 2/1 WINS
Aleatoric [6F] 150/1 third
Employer [13F] 4/1 eighth; 11 ran

1.25
Check My Pulse [19F] 66/1 third
Fanfaronade  [13F] 40/1 eighth; 8 ran

1.55
Dariya [21F] 8/1 fifth; 12 ran

2.30
Diodorus [21F] 2/1 second
Escapability [24F] 11/8f third; 9 ran

3.00
Mister Universum [28F] 16/1 WINS; 9 ran

3.30
No qualifiers; 12 ran

4.00 
Whiskey And Water [18F] 13/2 second
Building Bridges [26F] 16/1 fourth; 12 ran

4.30
No qualifiers; 9 ran

5.00 
No qualifiers; 12 ran.

Uttoxeter aggregates:
94 runners
11 qualifiers
2 winners: Ginistrelli (2/1); Mister Universum (16/1)
Profit / loss to 1 point win stake: +9 points

----------

Newton Abbot 07.07.20

1.40
Hiconic [30F] 9/2 WINS
Peat Moss [14F] 6/1 third
Debt Of Honour [21F] 12/1 sixth
American Dreamer [20F] 22/1 seventh; 7 ran

2.10
No qualifiers; 9 ran

2.40 
No qualifiers; 8 ran

3.10
No qualifiers; 9 ran

3.45
No qualifiers; 8 ran

4.20
Hereia [32F] 8/1 fifth
Grapevine [23F] 14/1 sixth; 7 ran

4.50
Teaser [35F] 12/1 sixth; 9 ran

5.20
No qualifiers; 8 ran

5.50
No qualifiers; 9 ran

Newton Abbot aggregates:
74 runners
7 qualifiers
1 winner: Hiconic (9/2)
Profit / Loss to one point win stake: -1.5 points

----------

Stratford 08.07.20

12.15
No qualifiers; 8 ran

12.45
Beat The Judge [28F] 5/1 third
Oborne Lady [23F] 250/1 seventh; 9 ran

1.20
I'lletyougonow [31F] 25/1 second; 9 ran

1.50
Lady Reset [14F] 4/1 fourth; 11 ran

2.20
Romanor [33F] 28/1 WINS
Et Moi Alors [7F] 20/1 sixth; 10 ran

2.50
My Renaissance [20F] 8/1 seventh; 10 ran

3.20
Jamacho [17F] 11/4 WINS
Chelsea's Boy [23F] fifth 25/1; 9 ran

3.50
No qualifiers; 7 ran

4.20 
Valkenburg [23F] 13/8f PU; 8 ran

Stratford aggregates:
81 runners
10 qualifiers
2 winners: Romanor (28/1); Jamacho (11/4)
Profit / loss to 1 point win stake: +21.75

----------

Market Rasen 10.07.20

12.00
Bear Valley [14F] 9/2 second
For Pleasure [15F] 13/2 third
Crimson King [17F] 40/1 tenth; 12 ran

12.30
No qualifiers; 7 ran

1.00
No qualifiers; 8 ran

1.30
No qualifiers; 9 ran

2.05
Red Force One [13F] 5/1 WINS
Fair Mountain [24F] 12/1 second
Brandon Castle [20F] 11/2 fourth
Fiesole [34F] 20/1 seventh
Valentino Dancer [22F] 15/2 ninth
Red Tornado [22F] 33/1 PU; 10 ran

2.40
Really Super [38F] 25/1 WINS
Fidux [31F] 14/1 second
San Benedeto [24F] 17/2 eighth
Adrrastos [20F] 16/1 PU; 17 ran

3.15
Searching [10F] 8/1 WINS
Mantovani [19F] 15/2 third; 6 ran

3.50 
No qualifiers; 6 ran

4.20 
No qualifiers; 7 ran

Market Rasen aggregates:
82 runners
15 qualifiers
3 winners: Red Force One (5/1); Really Super (25/1); Searching (8/1)
Profit / loss to 1 point win stake: +26 points

----------

According to the back of my fag packet a 1 point win wager on runners on their first run back over jumps after a pipe-opener on the Flat in June is currently showing a profit of 47.25 points. 

Time for a lie-down I think.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Market Rasen Summer Plate 2020

For longer than I freely care to admit, I've organised my life according to the austere regimen dictated by the racing calendar; at present I'm experiencing unprecedented levels of disorder, disarray and confusion. 

In normal circumstances Market Rasen's Summer Plate meeting is run on a Saturday in the middle of July and marks the mid-point of the summer jumps programme. This year the meeting goes ahead behind closed doors on Friday, with jump racing having emerged from lockdown barely 10 days ago. 

Of course, we're pleased to see racing over the jumps once again but the elephant in the paddock remains - when will paying punters be allowed to return to the track?

Earlier this week the Anglo-Irish jump classification ratings were published. Sharjah, second behind mare Epatante in the Champion Hurdle, tops the hurdlers' listing while Al Boum Photo and Cyrname share top spot in the chasers' listing.

Since resumption on July 1st, trainers who have recorded more than one NH winner and caught the eye include:

Olly Murphy (5/14) 35.7%
Emma Lavelle (4/7) 57.1% 
Paul Nicholls (3/11) 27.2%
Michael Scudamore (2/3) 66.6%
Ben Pauling (2/4) 50%
Evan Williams (2/9) 22.2%

ITV4 are scheduled to broadcast both the Summer Hurdle at 2.05 and the Summer Plate at 2.40.

With 17 declared, and not an awful lot of recent form to go on, this year's Summer Plate looks particularly difficult. The going is currently described as good, good to soft in places.

Lough Derg Spirit, pulled up behind A Plus Tard in the 2019 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at the Festival off a mark of 142, is vying for favouritism. Previously with Nicky Henderson and now trained by arch-rival Paul Nicholls, he races off 137 tomorrow sporting a first-time tongue-tie, having undergone wind surgery some nine months ago. Recent rain may not have helped his cause but stablemate San Benedeto has helped by keeping the weights down. 

These days it's difficult to know whether to describe Alan King as a jumps trainer who has runners on the Flat over the summer or a Flat trainer who has runners over the sticks in the winter. Whichever description you prefer, Mr King sent out sent out three winners and a second from just five runners at Royal Ascot three weeks ago. The handler saddles two here: Fidux was given a spin on the all-weather at Wolverhampton last month while Potterman made hay chasing last summer, culminating in a creditable fifth behind Vinndication in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot in November. Of the pair I prefer Potterman. 

Bags Groove is a talented individual I have plenty of time for and he appears to have been well supported this evening but the gelding hasn't been seen since finishing behind Kalashnikov at Aintree back in 2019.

In atypically prescient form I flagged up the chances of mare Casablanca Mix and Royal Village for last year's renewal, eventually opting to back the latter each-way; in the event the former beat the latter a comfortable eight lengths. 

Royal Village tries again tomorrow but current stable form is a concern and Copper West had this one and San Benedeto behind over course and distance in October. Two out Ian Williams' charge looked all over the winner that day but he was relegated to third on the run-in which is off-putting; he is weighted to reverse placings with Copper West.

The trends don't favour the chances of mare Really Super; I think last year's winner Casablanca Mix was the first mare to collect the spoils while the last six-year-old to oblige was the Peter Bowen trained Iron Man in 2007. 

Of the bigger priced runners the front-running Imperial Presence is of most interest on the back of his fifth behind the ill-fated Warthog in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham last December. 

Adrrastos ran well for a long way in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing fifth behind Who Dares Wins. That day I thought Jamie Snowden's charge didn't quite see out the trip and, on balance, the formbook confirms the suspicion so, in a race where for the most part fitness has to be taken on trust and in which ordinarily I prefer a younger horse, I'm going to place a small each-way wager on previous course and distance winner Copper West. 

A hold-up ride, he wouldn't appear the best handicapped beast in the field, going up four pounds after being pipped by One Style at Ludlow in February. Still, Tom George's charge has run well after a break in the past and is generally priced up a 14/1 chance, with most layers offering one fifth the odds five places.

Copper West is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, May 01, 2020

A brief review of the 2019/20 jumps season

Champion jockey: Brian Hughes
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Champion conditional jockey: Jonjo O'Neill Jr

On Tuesday 17 March Aidan Coleman rode the Charlie Longsdon trained Glencassley (9/4f) to victory in the concluding bumper at Wetherby in what proved to be the final race of a traumatic British jumps season brought to a premature conclusion by the coronavirus pandemic.

British racing went into lockdown and six days later the country followed suit.

The Racing Post's final print edition appeared on Thursday 26 March; with an estimated average daily circulation figure below 35,000, many commentators fear print publication may never resume. 

On Saturday 21 March ITV4 transmitted racing from Thurles held behind closed doors; the final meeting in Ireland took place at Clonmel on Tuesday 24 March.

Prior to that point the season had been characterised by bouts of torrential rain, abandonments, small fields and heavy going.

The omens weren't particularly good back in the autumn when I made my annual trip to the Ludlow races. Late to the track, stuck in traffic the wrong side of a road crossing, we were forced to watch my pick in the first, Balinsker, lead his field around the home turn; the beast went on to win comfortably at odds of 4/1.

Two mares caught the eye early season. Misty Bloom was backed from 16/1 to win the Richard Barber Memorial Mares' Handicap Hurdle at Wincanton at odds of 9/2 and a week later Happy Diva (14/1) collected the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Lostintranslation put up an eye-catching performance when beating previous winner Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock; afterwards connections anticipated the King George with some relish.

The Ascot duel between unbeaten Altior  and the higher rated Cyrname over a trip of two miles five furlongs had received appropriate billing as 'the clash of the titans'. Only other runner Solomon Grey was adrift after the first; Altior struggled to jump out of the soft ground and lost that unbeaten record.

Cyrname meanwhile was sent off 5/4 favourite for the King George at Kempton. The spark wasn't quite there on Boxing Day and he had no answer to stablemate Clan Des Obeaux who won the race decisively for the second consecutive year. Betfair Chase winner Lostintranslation proved a major disappointment and was pulled up; connections reported the gelding had suffered a breathing problem.

Cornerstone Lad was returned the shock winner of the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, beating Buveur D'Air a short head. Jockey Barry Geraghty dismounted from the 2/13 favourite immediately after crossing the line; the gelding was found to have a splinter of wood in his off fore after making a hash of the penultimate flight.

De Rasher Counter brought home the bacon for connections in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury; Ben Jones claimed five and held nearest rival The Conditional one and a half lengths.

Walk In The Mill beat Kimberlite Candy in the Becher and both names went into notebooks for a Grand National that would never take place.

Five weeks later Kimberlite Candy gained compensation, snatching victory from front-running Captain Chaos in the Classic Chase at Warwick. Captain Chaos - a sobriquet we often use to refer to the father-in-law - went to Doncaster the following month and claimed the Grimthorpe by an astonishing 54 lengths.

The ill-fated Warthog was generally known as something of a weak finisher but he proved doubters and critics wrong when fighting back to claim Cheltenham's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup from 40/1 outsider Spiritofthegames. On his next outing at the very same track the David Pipe trained grey cleared the first but injured himself in the process and could not be saved.

Members of the Wide Awake Club thought Not So Sleepy had the look of a handicap snip in Ascot's Betfair Exchange Trophy (also known as The Ladbroke) but even so Hughie Morrison's charge ran an extraordinary race from the front, beating nearest rival Monsieur Lecoq nine lengths. The standing start caught the front-runner dozing in the Betfair Hurdle - 33/1 shot Pic D'Orhy won - and he was subsequently pulled up in the Champion Hurdle.

Potters Corner, part-owned by Welsh rugby international Jonathan Davies, won the Welsh National for Welsh trainer Christian Williams with Welsh seven pound claimer Jack Tudor in the plate. After that performance the Grand National at Aintree was always going to be the next target.

It was decidedly touch-and-go whether this year's Cheltenham Festival would take place at all but, following advice proffered by government and the installation of temporary hand sanitizer stations, Cheltenham went ahead as planned. That decision has been the subject of some considerable scrutiny since and, you suspect, there will be plenty more to come.

Friday's Gold Cup saw a thrilling three-way finish between Al Boum Photo, the fast-finishing Santini and Lostintranslation on his first run after a breathing operation - and that was the order they crossed the line; Al Boum Photo became the first horse since Best Mate to win back-to-back Gold Cups.

2/1 favourite Epatante won an open-looking if somewhat sub-standard renewal of the Champion Hurdle in fine style but there were shocks in store in the feature races on both Wednesday and Thursday.

The defection on the day of both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi looked to have left the Champion Chase at the mercy of 2/5 favourite Defi Du Seuil but Philip Hobbs' charge found little when asked to close on Politologue; the Paul Nicholls trained grey made all to beat stablemate Dynamite Dollars nine and a half lengths.

Paisley Park was sent off 4/6 favourite for the World Hurdle but he trailed in seventh behind 50/1 winner Lisnagar Oscar; after the race Emma Lavelle's charge was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Many thought Samcro's nose defeat of Melon with Faugheen third in the Marsh Novices' Chase the race of the entire meeting while the turn-of-foot Champ displayed after the last in the RSA will live long in the memory.

For sheer drama though nothing could quite compare to Goshen's mistake at the last when ten lengths clear in the Triumph - footage clearly showed the gelding trapping his hind and front shoes together -  which resulted in the unseating of jockey Jamie Moore, the race at their mercy. Burning Victory, the principal beneficiary, was the first leg of a treble for Paul Townend and a four-timer for Willie Mullins on the day...

With the population in quarantine, 4.8 million viewers tuned in to watch the virtual Grand National, bookmakers donating profits of over £2.6 million to NHS charities.

The three previous renewals of the virtual race had proved remarkably prescient when compared to actual results; this year Potters Corner (18/1) came home in front but many thought Christian Williams' Welsh National hero 'an unlikely winner' given the virtual going was described as good while Potters Corner had shown his best form on heavy.
 
There was no fairytale ending for Richard Johnson when unseating from Westend Story at Exeter on January 21 - he suffered a broken arm in the mishap. 37 days later Johnson was back in the plate, riding a double for Olly Murphy at Musselburgh. but his hopes of retaining the jockeys' title had all but disappeared. Riding mainly in the north, Brian Hughes collected his inaugural jump jockeys' championship with 141 winners, 19 ahead of Johnson.

'Least said, soonest mended' would be the most succinct way of summarising a dismal season for the blog's selections; the imposition of lockdown has seen a slight amelioration in circumstances - never waste a crisis as they say. A small profit was realised at the Cheltenham Festival and for that reason Ultima Handicap Chase winner The Conditional is nominated as blog horse of the year.

On 30 April Cornelius Lysaght declared his 'BBC race is run' after 29 years and 8 months with the corporation but he was keen to emphasise that did not signal his retirement from the sport.

In these extraordinary times jump racing is provisionally set to return on 1 July, with winners since the beginning of February able to retain their novice status until 30 November. In the meantime, stay safe.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Virtual Grand National 2020

The nation loves a flutter on the Grand National and, in these extraordinary times, this year punters will be able to place a wager on the virtual Grand National which ITV1 will show at 5.00 on Saturday evening.

Bookmakers have pledged to donate all profits to NHS Charities Together; the maximum bet permitted is £10 win per horse per customer or £10 each-way per horse. The race has been pre-recorded by Carm Productions who have ensured the result will not be leaked to betting markets.

Oddschecker lists the latest prices; each-way terms are one fifth the odds five places.

Comparing the outcome of the three previous virtual renewals with the actual results...

2017: virtual winner Cause Of Causes was second behind One For Arthur;
2018: virtual winner Tiger Roll won;
2019: virtual winner Rathvinden third; virtual second Tiger Roll won.   

For those who like to make their own National selection, the Sporting Life's pinstickers' guide will be of some considerable assistance; for everyone else, there's this...

Below, a list of runners and riders showing the following information: race card number; last official chase handicap rating; age and weight of horse; horse name; jockey. 

1  171  10-11-10 Tiger Roll / Davy Russell
2  170   9-11-08 Bristol De Mai / Daryl Jacob
3  162  10-11-02 Aso / Charlie Deutsch
4  161   8-11-02 Elegant Escape / Jonjo O'Neill Jnr
5  142  10-11-02 Anibale Fly / Barry Geraghty
6  164   8-11-02 Top Ville Ben / Tom Dawson
7  155  10-11-00 Beware The Bear / Jerry McGrath
8  159  10-10-13 Peregrine Run / Kevin Sexton
9  155   9-10-13 Jett / Sam Waley-Cohen
10 158 10-10-13 Alpha Des Obeaux / Richard Johnson
11 149 11-10-13 Total Recall / Paul Townend
12 158  9-10-12 The Storyteller / Keith Donoghue
13 159  9-10-12 Magic Of Light / Robbie Power
14 157  8-10-11 Talkischeap / Tom Cannon
15 157 10-10-11 Yala Enki / Bryony Frost
16 157 10-10-11 Ballyoptic / Sam Twiston-Davies
17 156  7-10-10 Burrows Saint / Rachael Blackmore
18 156 11-10-10 Definitly Red / Brian Hughes
19 150 11-10-09 Sub Lieutenant / JJ Slevin
20 146 11-10-09 Ok Corral / Derek O'Connor
21 155  7-10-09 Tout Est Permis / Sean Flanagan
22 151 10-10-08 Vintage Clouds / Danny Cook
23 154  8-10-08 Crievehill / Tom Bellamy
24 155 11-10-08 Lake View Lad / Henry Brooke
25 154  9-10-08 Jury Duty / Mark Enright
26 148 12-10-07 Pleasant Company / David Mullins
27 152 10-10-06 Acapella Bourgeois / Danny Mullins
28 151  9-10-06 Shattered Love / Lisa O'Neill
29 150  8-10-06 Any Second Now / Mark Walsh
30 145 10-10-06 Potters Corner / Jack Tudor
31 149  9-10-05 Dounikos / Luke Dempsey
32 150  8-10-05 Kildisart / Nico De Boinville
33 150  8-10-05 Death Duty / Gavin Brouder
34 153  8-10-05 Ramses De Teillee / Tom Scudamore
35 150 11-10-04 Valtor / James Bowen
36 150  8-10-04 Saint Xavier / David Maxwell
37 150 11-10-04 Warriors Tale / Harry Cobden
38 150  9-10-04 Double Shuffle / Jonathon Burke
39 140  8-10-04 Kimberlite Candy / Richie McLernon
40 141 10-10-04 Walk In The Mill / James Best

Tiger Roll has won the past two renewals and is priced just 5/1 to come home in front.

Gordon Elliott's charge won off a mark of 159 last year but has been allocated 171 this time and hasn't been seen in such sparkling form this season. On revised terms the mare Magic Of Light, second last year, looks to have been given every chance of reversing that form. For those interested, the last mare to win the National was Nickel Coin in 1951.

Irish-trained runners filled four of the first five positions last time; according to my calculations they account for 19 of tomorrow's 40 declarations - Peregrine Run gets into the virtual race although he failed to meet the qualifying stipulations for the race itself.

Surprise has been expressed in certain quarters that Paul Townend has been jocked up on Total Recall when stablemate Burrows Saint would appear to have the more obvious chance... Burrows Saint is one of two seven-year-olds in the field (the other Tout Est Permis) - the last seven-year-old to come home in front was Bogskar in 1940.

I haven't seen an official going report (!) but I'm assuming they'll run on something approaching good to soft ground which wouldn't necessarily play to the strengths of confirmed mud-lovers like Yala Enki and two previous Welsh National winners, Potters Corner and Elegant Escape.

On official handicap ratings Top Ville Ben and Bristol De Mai catch the eye; the former likes to race from the front but I'm not convinced either will see out the trip.

Neither of the two greys, Vintage Clouds and Lake View Lad. appeared to take to the fences last year and, as a general rule of thumb, I prefer a horse that has shown some form over the course.

Back in December Walk In The Mill won the Becher Chase over these fences (Kimberlite Candy second, Alpha Des Obeaux third, Definitly Red fourth, Ballyoptic eleventh, Vintage Clouds pulled up).

That form reads well, as does Kimberlite Candy's subsequent victory in Warwick's Classic Chase in January; Captain Chaos, second that day, went on to win the Eider Chase at Newcastle while fourth horse The Conditional pipped Kildisart in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival just three and a half weeks ago. On that run, perhaps Kildisart is overpriced at 50/1...

A mention too for Definitly Red on the back of that fourth in the Becher. After a facile win at Kelso the last day trainer Brian Ellison was particularly bullish about his charge's chance in receipt of a stone from Tiger Roll. 

Tiger Roll is a must on anyone's shortlist; the others on mine are Magic Of Light, Kimberlite Candy, Walk In The Mill and Definitly Red. Here's how I see them finishing...

1. Magic Of Light - second last year - forgiven below par effort last time out;
2. Tiger Roll - gallant attempt to record a third successive victory... ;
3. Walk In The Mill - Becher winner and fourth last year;
4. Definitly Red - could be quite well handicapped;
5. Kimberlite Candy - brings strong recent form to the table.

Good luck - and, more importantly, stay safe.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Eclectic thoughts after Cheltenham 2020

This time last week Al Boum Photo had just retained the Cheltenham Gold Cup; it seems like half a lifetime ago.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is currently no racing in Britain while an announcement from Boris Johnson this evening means that all betting shops are set to close until further notice.

Racing goes ahead in Ireland tomorrow; ITV4 will cover the first five races from Thurles.

Some very brief personal thoughts after Cheltenham...

Best finish of the meet - Samcro beating Melon a nose, Faugheen third, in the Marsh Novices' Chase.

The two that came to grief in the Supreme - Captain Guinness and Elixir D'Ainay - both appeared to be travelling well enough coming to the penultimate flight. Given that front-runner Asterion Forlonges had persistently jumped out to his right during the race, I'm still at a loss to explain why Mark Walsh presented Elixir D'Ainay at that flight in the way he did.

As Cathal Gahan notes in the Weekender, Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps Network Final in a time nearly three seconds faster than Lisnagar Oscar recorded in winning the Stayers' Hurdle.

To focus on the ten handicap races, as in 2019, Britain won five Ireland five; Column Of Fire (trained by Gordon Elliott) looked a serious threat to all when coming to grief at the last in the Martin Pipe.

Last year 19% of Irish runners achieved a first three finish in handicaps; on initial inspection this year I think 17 runners (from 73 starters) achieved a first three finish which equates to a comparative figure of 23.29%.

Given that last year Irish runners achieved even better results in handicap races at the Aintree Festival, I was working on this cunning Baldrick-like plan for this year's meet...

Stay safe.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds.

For the fourth time in the past five years the blog's Festival selections have returned a profit, although this year's modest figure contrasts rather sharply with last year's performance.

To quote my regular life coach and mentor: 'Let's be honest, now, a modest profit beats the thumping loss you usually record over the course of a season.' Withering. What with the whole wellbeing agenda and everything, perhaps it's time I started looking for a replacement...

Tuesday
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Selection: The Conditional
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 9/1
Starting price: 15/2
Result: Win
Return: 6.40
Profit/Loss: +5.40

3.30 Champion Hurdle
Selection: Cornerstone Lad
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 33/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Tuesday +4.40

Wednesday
2.10 RSA Chase
Selection: Copperhead
Bet: Win
Advised price: 9/2
Starting price: 6/1
Result: Fell
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.50 Coral Cup
Selection: Alfa Mix
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 11/1
Starting price: 14/1
Result: Seventh
Return: 0.00
Profit / Loss: -1.00

4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Selection: Zoffee
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 16/1
Starting price: 16/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

5.30 Champion bumper
Selection: Israel Champ
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 12/1
Starting price: 8/1
Result: Seventeenth
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Wednesday: -4.00

Thursday
2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Selection: Third Wind
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 12/1
Result: Fourth
Return: 1.90
Profit/Loss: +0.90

2.50 Ryanair Chase
Selection: Min
Bet: Win
Advised price: 11/4
Starting price: 2/1
Result: Win
Return: 3.75
Profit/Loss: +2.75

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
Selection: Penhill
Bet: Each way
Advised price:14/1
Starting price: 10/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

Profit/Loss Thursday: +2.65

Friday
2.10 County Handicap Hurdle 
Selection: Thatsy
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 8/1
Result: Seventh
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

3.30 Gold Cup
Selection: Lostintranslation
Bet: Win
Advised price: 17/2
Starting price: 10/1
Result: Third
Return 0.00
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Friday: -2.00

----
Outlay over four days: 11 points
Profit/Loss over four days: +1.05 points
Profit as percentage of outlay: 9.54%
----

Friday, March 13, 2020

Midlands Grand National 2020

A curtailed post on Gold Cup day to look at tomorrow's Midlands Grand National (3.35); the going at Uttoxeter is described as heavy, soft in places.

With other major sporting events postponed or cancelled on account of the coronavirus pandemic, you feel it's only a matter of time before racing is affected.

Ladbrokes Trophy winner De Rasher Counter stands his ground; Ben Jones can claim three but the top weight still has to give away a minimum of ten pounds to his rivals over this marathon four mile two furlong trip. Petite Power, Sheneededtherun, Very First Time and Financial Outcome all contest this from out of the handicap.

Christmas In April won the Sussex National at Plumpton in January and the Devon National at Exeter last month and as a result is now rated 14 pounds higher. I'm just concerned this will may well prove one trip to the well too many.

Truckers Lodge is priced up favourite on the back of his second behind Potters Corner (won this last year off 135) in the Welsh National; the handicapper has raised Paul Nicholls' charge just one pound for that effort but this trip is the best part of four furlongs further.

Prime Venture was fourth in that Welsh National, beaten just over four lengths, and the handicapper has dropped Evan Williams' charge one pound. Fourth in this race last year off 139 he tries this time off 135 and connections fit blinkers for the first time. You can see why this one makes plenty of appeal but at 7/1 now the value has disappeared.

Joe Farrell would prefer better ground while the mare Sheneededtherun has really improved for a move of yard but this represents a step up in class.

I'm considering two at an each-way price: Dominateur and Just Your Type.

The former is unexposed; in the RP Weekender [11-15.12.19] Oliver Sherwood said:

"I think he can make up into a nice staying chaser and could be worth following."

Just Your Type finished second behind Bigirononhiship over an extended four miles at Kelso in December. He never really travelled next time in the Towton at Wetherby and has since undergone wind surgery; if that surgery has helped the cause, 14/1 (five places) looks tempting. Connections have ditched the tongue-tie tried in the Towton.

Along with Captain Drake (unseated twice in last three runs), Just Your Type is joint top-rated on Racing Post ratings.

It's certainly a risky wager but it may just be the last one for quite some time...

For those with money to burn after Cheltenham Just Your Type (14/1) is the each-way suggestion; Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds five places.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Friday

Over the years I haven't spent an awful lot of time on the Triumph Hurdle (1.30) but this looks a particularly high class renewal. I was taken with Sir Psycho's slick, fluent hurdling the last day at Haydock but on ratings he has enough to find with a few of these (including stablemate Solo) and the 12/1 on offer doesn't quite cut it - one to watch with interest.

I've had more tips for the Country Hurdle (2.10) than you could shake a stick at, yet most of them have failed to make the final declaration stage. The Evan Williams trained Mack The Man is an absentee but holds an entry in the Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle over two miles five at Kempton on Saturday. Stablemate Quoi De Neuf stays put in his stable.

At a preview event Gordon Elliott was quite bullish about Thatsy indicating he thought this one well handicapped. The gelding appeared to meet some trouble in running the last day at Leopardstown behind Thosedaysaregone (third in the Coral Cup on Wednesday); Davy Russell does the steering.

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle form is represented by Ciel De Neige (raised four pounds after finishing second to Pic D'Orhy), Sir Valentine (fourth, also raised four pounds), Zanza (sixth, raised two pounds), Oakley (seventh, dropped one pound) and Stolen Silver (eighth, dropped two pounds).

A word too for Moon Over Germany at a much bigger price; trainer Henry De Bromhead said in the RP Weekender [29.01.20-02.02.20]:

"I gave him a run over hurdles at Leopardstown over Christmas as I feel his mark is more favourable - he is rated 15lbs higher over fences. He has a mark of 134 over hurdles here in Ireland and 140 in Britain so the plan is to go to Cheltenham for the County Hurdle."

That discrepancy between the hurdle and chase ratings makes Moon Over Germany an intriguing proposition (28/1 in places this evening) but the last nine-year-old to come home in front was Pedrobob in 2007.

Thatsy is the each-way suggestion, 14/1 with Paddy Power who pay one fifth the odds six places. I note that no favourite has won this in the past ten years.

Al Boum Photo may well go off favourite for the feature Gold Cup (3.30) as he bids to become the first horse since Best Mate to win two consecutive renewals (2002/ 2003/ 2004). You could never accuse Henrietta Knight of over-racing her stable star; Al Boum Photo has followed a similar preparation to last year - after finishing second to Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo has had just the one run over an extended two miles five at Tramore on New Year's Day.

The handicapper rated stablemate Kemboy the best chaser in the land after that Punchestown victory but he hasn't been in quite the same form after a delayed start to the season following problems regarding his ownership. He has been beaten twice by Delta Work this season and questions marks remain over his jumping.

Santini will be challenging for favouritism and certainly looks a stayer but Bristol De Mai made a significant mistake three from home in the Cotswold Chase the last day, ceding the initiative to the Henderson horse.

Connections fit cheekpieces for the first time here but I'm just not convinced and I don't think drying ground will help his cause.

Lostintranslation ran a shocker in the King George at Kempton last time but before that was a must for any shortlist. He has undergone wind surgery since he 'made a noise' at Kempton and wears a first-time tongue tie; handler Colin Tizzard has been very pleased with his preparation..

Clan Des Obeaux has won two King Georges at Kempton over three miles but patently didn't come up the hill in last year's renewal (close 3rd two out, soon ridden, no extra from last). Paul Nicholls has adjusted his charge's preparation, missing out the Denman Chase in February (run at Ascot last year), and feels this will make all the difference; from a very early stage Nicholls has compared this one to See More Business who won the Gold Cup for him in 1999 (Mick Fitzgerald up).

Presenting Percy looked very good when winning the 2018 RSA Chase by seven lengths from Monalee but he was beaten 33 lengths into eighth behind Al Boum Photo in last year's Gold Cup and has finished behind Delta Work twice this season.

Bristol De Mai appeared at the end of his tether when claiming third last year while Monalee is certainly a smart operator and overpriced at 25/1 (beaten a head by Delta Work the last day) but has stamina questions to answer. Elegant Escape simply doesn't jump well enough while several commentators have put up Chris's Dream (won Red Mills Chase with Real Steel pulled up) as one that could make a place at a price.

In 2014 Lord Windermere won at odds of 20/1 and Al Boum Photo obliged at 12/1 last year but all the other winners over the past decade have been priced in single figures. The Irish challenge looks particularly strong with Al Boum Photo the percentage call and Delta Work bang there.

I'm going to take a leap of faith and support Lostintranslation who on official ratings has two pounds to find with top-rated pair Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.

Lostintranslation is the win selection, generally an 8/1 chance, but William Hill go 17/2 at the time of writing.   

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Thursday

A number of media outlets reported the attendance at the first day of the Festival was 60,000, a drop of some 7,000 compared to last year. Apparently empty hand-sanitisers were in plentiful supply; rumours that toffs in tweeds had been spotted sharing tubs of Swarfega have yet to be confirmed.

Paisley Park is an odds-on favourite to repeat last year's victory in the showcase race, the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30); on official ratings he is 12 pounds clear of nearest challengers, Apple's Jade and Barcadys.

Last time out he beat Summerville Boy here in the Cleeve Hurdle when Aidan Coleman kept his mount much closer to the pace than we'd seen previously, no doubt wary of allowing front-running Summerville Boy too much rope. Tom George's charge didn't really take to fences; reverting to hurdles and stepping up to a trip of three miles for the first time certainly suited the gelding well.

Warren Greatrex has always thought a lot of Emitom; back at the beginning of the core 2018 NH season he said:

"He's won his only outing in a Warwick bumper back in April. It didn't come as a huge shock to us as he'd been showing all the right signs at home and he travelled really well.

The form isn't much to write home about but he won pretty well and if we've got a novice hurdler that could go to the top then it might just be him.

Put it this way, he's in Cole Harden's box [winner 2015 Stayers' Hurdle] so he's obviously got a lot to live up to!"

His only defeat that season was a three length second to Champ [wins RSA Chase earlier today] in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree but, unfortunately, things haven't been quite so straightforward this term. He suffered a setback during the build-up to his seasonal debut and, after a rushed preparation, was well beaten in the Relkeel. Next time out he won the Rendlesham at Haydock in taking fashion and warrants every respect.

My each-way play is 2018 winner Penhill on the back of these comments from Willie Mullins in the RP Weekender [04-08.03.20]:

"The big target for him all season has been the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle. I was very happy with his run in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last month and what was most encouraging was that he usually comes out of his races a little bit stiff, but on this occasion he was fine. He would have needed that run and that would have put him spot on... Although he missed last season he is bidding to make it three Cheltenham Festival wins, having won he Albert Bartlett in 2017 and the Stayers' Hurdle in 2018. I would be looking for another big show from him."     

All winners in the past decade have been aged between seven and nine; two nine-year-olds have obliged - Big Buck's (2012) and Solwhit (2013).

Penhill (14/1) is the each-way selection; BetVictor pay four places on this race.

Irish trained horses filled five of the first seven places in last year's renewal of the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (2.10) so it's no surprise to find Relegate, The Storyteller and Sire Du Berlais at the head of the market.

From among the home challengers I like Skandiburg - Olly Murphy describes him as 'an improving handicapper' who'll 'thrive in a big field' - and Third Wind. Hughie Morrison's charge beat five time winner Jatiluwih at Wincanton on Boxing Day; Hobbs describes the winner as 'a smart opponent' and says of his own charge: 'That was a very good run last time and he [Jatiluwih] has to be a contender...upped in trip'. Taking into account Mr David Maxwell's three pound claim, the pair look closely matched.

Third Wind is the each-way selection, currently 14/1 with Sky Bet who pay one fifth the odds six places.

The Racing Post ratings for the 2019 running of the Ryanair Chase were:

180 Frodon
178 Balko Des Flos 
178 Un De Sceau
176 Footpad
174 Road To Respect
171 Monalee
170 Aso

The Racing Post ratings (with official handicap ratings in brackets) for tomorrow's renewal (2.50) are:

184 Min (170)
177 Frodon (168)
175 Aso (162)
174 A Plus Tard (166)
171 Riders Onthe Storm (162)
170 Duc Des Genievres (161)
169 Saint Calvados (161)
168 Shattered Love (151) [mare]

On these figures Min looks the one; his record over two miles four furlongs reads three wins and one second (beaten a neck by Politologue who won the Champion Chse earlier today) but he has never won at Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins said: 'Last year we changed tactics with him at Cheltenham and it didn't work out but we know where we are with him now.' 

A Plus Tard won the novices' handicap chase here last year by an astonishing 16 lengths and beat Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown over Christmas. That form reads very well and the stable chalked up two wins on Tuesday.

Frodon hasn't been in quite such good form this season but beat Aso in last year's renewal.

Riders Onthe Storm is unbeaten for the Twiston-Davies team but had a hard race when seeing off Cyrname (and Traffic Fluide) at Ascot less than four weeks ago.

Aso is a course and distance winner who happens to like it here; he has been placed in the last two renewals but hasn't been in the best of form this term. He could make the frame again at a decent price if first-time blinkers have the desired effect.

Min's jumping hasn't always been foot prefect, particularly in his last two runs, and his course form is a worry but on those figures Min is the win selection; he's generally 11/4 at the time of writing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Wednesday

Unbeaten in seven starts to date, Envoi Allen takes his chance in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (1.30) with Davy Russell doing the steering. On official ratings Gordon Elliott's charge is seven pounds clear of nearest rival Sporting John (unbeaten in three) and is priced accordingly.

Champ is a horse with a serious engine but his price has been on the drift for the RSA Chase (2.10); he doesn't look the easiest of rides or the best of jumpers for that matter. Both his defeats over obstacles have come at this track; he finished second behind City Island in last year's Ballymore and then took a crashing fall at the penultimate flight when in command of the Dipper on New Year's Day. His jumping up to that point wasn't always as slick as you might have wished for - I'm a layer rather than a backer.

Minella Indo won last year's Albert Bartlett at odds of 50/1 with Allaho third, beaten nine lengths. Alloha reduced that deficit to two lengths in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in May. In the RP Weekender [04-08.03.20] Willie Mullins informed readers Alloha 'can be quite keen in his races' and they were looking to 'give him some more work before Cheltenham to try to get some of that keenness out of him'.

Battleoverdoyen fell last time out and was pulled up when sent off 3/1 favourite for last season's Ballymore.

Colin Tizzard saddles two, Copperhead and Slate House, and the pair are joint top-rated. The former looked most impressive when winning the Reynoldstown at Ascot last month; Tom Segal (Pricewise) expects this one to oblige. Slate House was set to go close in the BetVictor Gold Cup here in November but came to grief two out. He was disappointing in the Cotswold Chase last time but has more experience than several in the field.

A couple of trends in a trappy race: since 2000 only two horses younger than seven have collected the spoils - 5-y-o Star De Mohaison (2006) and 6-y-o Don Poli (2012); nine of the last ten winners have run at least three times over the larger obstacles.

Copperhead (win) gets the nod.

Alfa Mix is the each-way suggestion for the fiercely competitive Coral Cup (2.50) on the back of Gavin Cromwell's comments that the gelding is 'one of the few Irish handicappers who can run off his Irish mark'. Several layers are paying six places on this race - at the time of writing Coral go 11/1.   

This year's Queen Mother Champion Chase has received star-billing in recent weeks with the battle of the 'big three' - Altior, Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi - anticipated with some relish. Altior was reported lame on Sunday and unfortuantely has failed in the race against time; he misses the chance to defend his title.

Chacun Pour Soi defeated Defi Du Seuil a convincing four and a quarter lengths in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown last May; a mistake five from home didn't help Defi's cause. Defi remains unbeaten since (including a course and distance win in the Schloer Chase in November). His track record - 6 from 8 - tips the balance for me; he is my idea of the winner but with just six facing the starter now this is a race I'm going to watch rather than bet on.

Tom Segal has said anything can win the Boodles (4.50). Well, my fancy for this, Rowland Ward, can't as he never made the final declaration stage. Badly hampered last time out, he is probably better than his final finishing position might suggest.

Irish runners filled the first three places in this race last year; Gordon Elliott has expressed a reservation about Aramax on very soft ground and appeared to favour Tronador.

I like Philip Hobbs' understated style and his Zoffee is of interest. In the RP Weekender 26.02.20-01.03.20 he states:

"We are lucky to have a strong team for the Cheltenham Festival this season and one of the more interesting ones could be Zoffee. He finished second on each of his first two starts before trotting up at Doncaster last time out. He has really thrived since then and is very much on an upward curve. He goes for the Fred Winter and I hope he will be competitive." 

Quoted at 16/1 with Sky Bet - the only bookmaker paying six places at the moment - Zoffee is the each-way suggestion.

I'm happy to lay Champ in the RSA and back Israel Champ each-way in the bumper (5.30).

Irish runners have won six of the past ten renewals and the word on the street is that the Willie Mullins trained Appreciate It is the one. That said, there have been some shock results over the years including Cue Card, the last four-year-old to come home in front at odds of 40/1 in 2010.

Course and distance winner Israel Champ looks the best of the British and comes from the David Pipe stable responsible for Moon Racer (owned by Professor Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew) in 2015.  Panic Attack won a listed mares' race at Market Rasen for Willie Mullins in January and was subsequently bought by Bryan Drew and transferred to the Pipe stable last month - she could be absolutely anything. I think I'm correct when I say the only filly /  mare to win this since 2000 was Fayonagh in 2017.

Most layers are paying four places and at the time of writing Unibet offer 12/1; Israel Champ is the each-way pick.   

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - Tuesday

It's been a messy season all round and this year's Festival takes place with the threat posed by coronavirus on everyone's mind.

As always, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle opens the meeting (Tuesday 1.30); this renewal looks particularly trappy. Asterion Forlonge has been well tipped up and likes to race from the front but his tendency to jump right would be a worry.

Gordon Elliott had indicated Envoi Allen might run in the Supreme rather the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Wednesday 1.30) if the ground turned up testing; after walking the course on Saturday he indicated Envoi Allen goes in the Ballymore.

At present the going is described as soft with further rain predicted on Monday evening.

This year the showcase race on the first day, the Champion Hurdle (3.30), has been routinely declared as substandard and 'wide open' by the world and his wife; the final declarations number seventeen.

The Nicky Henderson trained Epatante heads the market and her seven pounds mares' allowance looks significant. She has won four of her five hurdle races to date, her only defeat coming in the mares' novices' hurdle here last year. That course form leaves a question mark but she comes here a much fresher horse after winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day (Silver Streak second, Ballyandy third, Fusil Raffles pulled up). The favourite has obliged on four occasions in the past decade; the last three mares to win this race: Dawn Run (1984); Flakey Dove (1994); Annie Power (2016).

Pentland Hills won last year's Triumph Hurdle well but he has been turned over twice this term and makes little appeal at the price.

Cilaos Emery has been supplemented so connections clearly feel their charge will be competitive.

Given the open-looking nature of the race, a number of runners have been put up at each-way prices including Supasundae, Coeur Sublime, Ballyandy and Silver Streak (for me, not always fluent enough at his obstacles).

On official handicap ratings the best horses in the race are:

163 Sharjah (prefers better ground)
160 Supasundae
159 Epatante
159 Cilaos Emery
159 Cornerstone Lad

Cornerstone Lad pulled off a shock when beating Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle; it later came to light that Buveur D'Air had suffered a freak injury when jumping the penultimate flight.

Micky Hammond's charge was then beaten threequarters of length into third in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial, trying to concede six pounds to Ballyandy and three pounds to Pentland Hills. That form reads well.

He prefers soft / heavy ground and, to date, has finished in the first three on his fourteen starts over hurdles. His handler has indicated he doesn't have to race from the front - and perhaps won't get there with Not So Sleepy in the field! Hughie Morrison's charge is not for the faint-hearted but, if he gets to the front, he could easily outrun his odds; 40/1 has long since disappeared; at the time of writing he is a 25/1 chance. 

Cornerstone Lad (33/1) is the each-way selection with most layers paying one fifth the odds four places.

Off a mark of 159 Vinndication heads the market and the weights for the Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50).

Last year the Trevor Hemmings owned Lake View Lad carried top weight off a mark of 155 and finished third, two lengths behind the second, another Hemmings owned horse, Vintage Clouds. Vintage Clouds is rated seven pounds higher this time (151); connections are probably using this as a stepping stone to the Grand National.

Several commentators have put up Kildisart on the back of his recent fifth behind Mister Malarky in the Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton. He has been declared with first-time cheekpieces but I just wonder whether he might prefer better ground.

Irish trained runners don't have the best of records in this in recent years (last winner Dun Doire in 2006). Discorama's previous two runs have been disappointing but he has had a wind operation since and is near the head of the market.

I had Now McGinty pencilled in for this but he's nowhere to be seen.

At the weights the one to catch my eye is previous course and distance winner The Conditional. He has made marked improvement since moving over the water to David Bridgwater's yard in Gloucestershire and found only De Rasher Counter too good in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November (Mister Malarky ten lengths adrift in sixth). He didn't appear to stay thee miles five at Warwick the last day; the handicapper has relented and dropped him three pounds for that effort.

At a bigger price Activial looks to have been trained with this as his target. He finished sixth last year  - beaten just over seven lengths - and he lost a right hind shoe that day. He tries this year six pounds better off and his last run behind Native River at Newbury should have put him spot on. However, at ten years of age, the trends suggest he may struggle to come home in front  - the only ten-year-old to win in the past decade was Chief Dan George in 2010.

William Hill offer 9/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places - The Conditional is the each-way selection.

The Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle sees a clash between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle while Irish runners filled the first three places in last year's running of the 4.50 (cf. previous post). It's not a bet for me but Gordon Elliott has indicated Galvin, sixth behind City Island in last year's Ballymore, is expected go well.               

Friday, March 06, 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2020 - early thoughts and handicap hints

It's been a wet winter. With tomorrow's Imperial Cup card at Sandown abandoned, I'm keeping my power dry for next week's jamboree.

In the run-up to last year's Festival I wrote:

"Festival handicaps are an absolute minefield, come with a health / wealth warning and really need to be avoided at all costs."

As a general rule of thumb that advice still holds good but, hell, yet again, I hear those Siren voices starting to call...

It all stems back to a salient piece of analysis Simon Holt produced after last year's event [RP Weekender 20-24.03.19] in which he pointed out that Irish runners 'again performed exceptionally well in handicaps'.

Of the ten handicap races staged over the four days, Great Britain won five, Ireland five.

However Irish trained horses filled the first three places in the following races:

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (this year named the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase):

 1. A Plus Tard 5/1f
 2. Tower Bridge 6/1
 3. Ben Dundee 33/1

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle:

 1. Band Of Outlaws 7/2f
 2. Coko Beach 14/1
 3. Ciel De Neige 17/2

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle:

 1. Early Doors 5/1
 2. Dallas Des Pictons 7/2f
 3. Defi Bleu 14/1

The winners of the Close Brothers and the Boodles were both running in handicaps for the first time.

In addition, in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, five of the first seven home were trained in Ireland:

 1. Sire Du Berlais 4/1f
 [2. Tobefair 40/1] 
 3. Not Many Left 16/1
 4. Cuneo 12/1
 5. A Toi Phil 20/1
 [6. Theclockisticking 25/1]
 7. Thermistocles 9/1

Holt notes that of the 226 runners in ten handicaps, 13 out of 68 Irish runners finished in the first three (19%) compared to 17 out of 158 British runners (10.8%).

Three weeks later Holt doubled up with a piece entitled 'Handicaps at Aintree a rout for the Irish' [RP Weekender 10-14.04.19] with Irish runners winning five of the seven handicaps from just 32 entries, with an additional four runners finishing placed; Ireland returned a 28% placings to runners figure while the British figure was just 9.4%.

To quote Holt directly:

"...there is no parity between British and Irish handicapping systems, and even though British handicappers run their own Irish ratings and generally have Irish horses a bit higher than back home, the returns at Cheltenham and Aintree suggest there is still a significant imbalance."

BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood has recently stated:

"Generally speaking I have the biggest problem with the Irish novice chasers as not everyone knows they go back to a rating of zero when starting over fences, whatever they've done over hurdles.

"That has made the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase the hardest for me this year, and a few...are higher than their Irish ratings."

Esoteric stuff and I'm no expert, not by a long chalk. Perhaps the professional handicappers have sought to address the imbalance referenced above - or maybe they haven't...

Bang on cue, in this week's Weekender [RP Weekender 04-08.03.20], Tom Segal pens a piece entitled 'Handicap grumbles tell a story', focussing on, amongst others, the rather aptly named The Storyteller:

"The extra few pounds didn't stop Presenting Percy or Sire Du Berlais and I doubt very much a horse like The Storyteller will be stopped by a couple fo pounds either. The Pertemps Final is hard to win but the fact many are suggesting he has been handicapped out of it tells me all those connected with him seriously fancy he will go close."     

At this stage, with several runners holding multiple entries, it's not that easy to predict which race named horses will run in, never mind if they're in with a serious chance of landing the spoils.

A few brief notes that might help along the way...

Aramax, currently favourite for the Boodles (4.50 Wednesday), won the same Naas race as Band Of Outlaws last year. The price disappeared a long time ago but in a recent interview Gordon Elliott expressed some reservation about this one on very soft ground and seemed sweeter on the chance of Tronador and possibly Saint D'oroux.

Gavin Cromwell says Alfa Mix is 'one of the few Irish handicappers who can run off his Irish mark'; he holds entries in the Coral Cup (2.50 Wednesday) and the Martin Pipe (5.30 Friday).

Thatsy holds entries in the Coral Cup (2.50 Wednesday), the County Hurdle (2.10 Friday) and the Martin Pipe (5.30 Friday) and is considered 'well handicapped' by Gordon Elliott.

Relegate holds an entry in the Pertemps Final (2.10 Thursday) and is a big loser in Paddy Power's book.

Gordon Elliott suggested Galvin would go well in the Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase (Tuesday 4.50).

Just for the record, I've noted that Gordon Elliott's win-strike rate over the past fortnight is just 8% (4-50) which is perhaps a slight concern.

After all that, I'm not really sure I'm any further forward...

As always, I'll aim to post a blog for each day's racing at the Festival. Current thinking, subject to change, briefly outlined below...

Cornerstone Lad overpriced at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday; an each-way play with conditions to suit.

Soft ground against Altior in the Champion Chase on Wednesday.

Third Wind not guaranteed to stay but of interest in the Pertemps Final on the back of his one length second behind Phoenix Way conceding that winner six pounds (Plumpton, January 2019).

Penhill an each-way play in the Stayers' Hurdle, Willie Mullins talking up his chance in the Weekender.

I was impressed with Sir Psycho's slick hurdling at Haydock the last day.

Mack The Man took a very nasty fall in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but trainer Evan Williams sounds keen. More work to be done; he's 25/1 with some layers for the County Hurdle but just 12/1 with Coral.

Not long left to wait now...

Friday, February 28, 2020

Doncaster's Grimthorpe Chase 2020

Eleven have been declared for the Grimthorpe Handicap Chase (3.35) at Doncaster tomorrow but both Definitly Red and Saint Xavier have their preferred engagement in the Premier Listed Chase (3.22) at Kelso.

At the start of this afternoon the going at Doncaster was described as soft, good to soft in places; that had changed to heavy by the end of the third race.

Last night, before final declaration stage, I'd thought Now McGinty was certainly worth a second look on the back of his head second behind Santini on seasonal debut at Sandown in November but connections have decided to let this opportunity pass. Stuart Edmunds' charge holds entries in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival (25/1) and the Grand National.

As an aside, I was interested in stablemate Rowland Ward in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Cheltenham's Wednesday card but, checking entries this evening, I see he is now a non-runner.

Back to the business in hand where two seven-year-olds, Worthy Farm and Boldmere, head up the market. The last seven-year-old to come home in front was, I think, Knight Templar (Barry Fenton up) in 2000 - when this was a very different race.

Worthy Farm has done a lot of his racing right-handed and, to date, hasn't won going the other way round. The blinkers certainly seem to have helped the cause but he's now rated 12 pounds higher than when he won a neck at Wincanton on Boxing Day.

Four weeks ago Boldmere looked to have the Towton at Wetherby at his mercy when coming to grief at the last. Caroline Bailey's charge is now rated 24 pounds higher than when winning the Holly Handicap Chase at Leicester (over two and a half miles) on December 11th.

Both market leaders have just four chase starts to their name.

At nine years of age Yalltari may be two years older but with just five chase starts Venetia Williams' charge looks as though he hasn't been the easiest to train. The stable is in fine form though (23% win strike-rate over the past fortnight) and his chance is respected.

Captain Chaos isn't the most consistent of individuals but this season he has finished second behind Takingrisks in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle and then made practically all only to be mugged after the last by Kimberlite Candy in the Classic Chase at Warwick. That looked a hard enough race but, if in the mood and allowed his own way up front, he could take some pegging back.

Chidswell won this last year off a mark of 127 and tries to repeat the trick racing off 132. I lost count of the number of jumping errors Nicky Richards' charge made in the Sky Bet Chase here last time out yet he stayed on through beaten horses to claim third. Better jumping should see him more competitive but yard form looks a worry with no win for 40 days.

Dr Richard Newland hasn't recorded a win for 38 days; he saddles Aaron Lad who has just three chase starts to his name and this looks a stiff task.

Both Fortified Bay and Ascot De Bruyere were entered in last week's Eider Chase which fell to the weather; I put up the latter for the Eider as James Ewart's gelding happens to like it around Newcastle. Just over four weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Ascot De Bruyere some 21 lengths at Newcastle and, at the weights, would be expected to confirm that form. Jennie Candish's charge is another relatively inexperienced over the larger obstacles.

Respected commentator Simon Holt puts up Cesar Et Rosalie each-way.

I'm assuming Definitly Red and Saint Xavier will travel north to Kelso.

This year's renewal looks atypical in that five of the remaining nine runners have five or less chase starts under their belts and, on balance, I prefer to side with experience.

Captain Chaos' profile is just a little too inconsistent and I'd struggle to support Chidswell after those jumping errors last time so I'm going to chance Ascot De Bruyere with his featherweight on the heavy ground; Danny McMenamin can claim three.

On Racing Post ratings - and on his best form - he should certainly be competitive and, as I indicated last week, on his only try beyond three miles, he showed he could stay this sort of trip. I just hope he takes to Doncaster as well as he has done to Newcastle in the past.

Most layers go 33/1 this evening but Sky Bet offer 25/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Eider Chase 2020

Nike Vaporfly running shoes have thrown up some difficult questions for the world athletics ruling body in recent weeks. In some cases, athletes have reported a 4% improvement on the time taken to run a marathon; they have been described as 'magic' shoes and 'likened to doping'.

Yesterday, a sufficiently well-refreshed reader, swaying gently in the wind, beckoned me over and proceeded to suggest that, using similar patented technology, Nike should consider branching out into the manufacture of thoroughbred racing plates. Perhaps brand them 'Horsefly' (not 'Horseplay' - a singular point on which we could both agree). He continued along the lines that these hi-tech racing plates should then be fitted to all the blog's selections in the future - that way down-at-heel readers might at least retain a modicum of hope of receiving some small return on the wagers suggested.

Quite cutting remarks, I think you'd agree.

'A sort of shoe-in, do you mean?' I enquired. 'Have a sole!'

Too late. Showing plenty of toe, he'd already hoofed it - straight into The Trotting Mare across the road.

Tomorrow's meeting at Newcastle is subject to an eight o'clock inspection; the going is currently described as heavy, soft in places. Twelve have been declared for the Eider Chase (2.45) which this year will be run over the slightly longer distance of four miles one furlong and 56 yards.

In 2018 Baywing won carrying 11-00 off a mark of 140 while last year Crosspark won off a mark of 135 carrying 10-13. Tomorrow Prime Venture heads the handicap off a mark of 136 which suggests this year's renewal may not be among the best but that's unlikely to make finding the winner any easier.

A number in the field wouldn't be guaranteed to see out this trip in this ground but Prime Venture isn't one of them and trainer's daughter Isabel Williams can claim seven. His fourth in the Welsh National behind Potters Corner reads well and, although he has yet to score over the larger obstacles, his handler hopes 'his time won't be long in coming'.

Favourite Petite Power comes into this in very good form. Fergal O'Brien's charge finished third behind Kimberlite Candy in Warwick's Classic Chase and before that was pipped a neck by Belle Empress - Belle Empress finished a creditable third in the Devon National at Exeter earlier today. Mr Liam Harrison claims seven pounds.

Owned by The Black Horse Hotel Bridgnorth, Calipso Collonges was a well-beaten second behind Lord Du Mesnil in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time. That still rates a good effort and his handler has said 'I can see him winning a nice handicap somewhere this season'. This is his first try at a trip beyond three miles two furlongs.

On the other hand Hugo 'N' Taz won the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen over three miles three and half furlongs on his first run in this country. Quoting David Pipe in this week's Weekender:

"I would be disappointed if he didn't build on that next time. He is in the Eider on Saturday and and could be a possible for the National Hunt Chase next month."

Three and a half weeks ago Fortified Bay beat Hill Sixteen two lengths here with Glittering Love third and Ascot De Bruyere fourth. Fortified Bay has been raised seven for that effort and on a strict interpretation of the form still has the beating of the third and fourth. That was over a trip just shy of three miles and clearly the market expects more from the Paul and Clare Rooney owned Glittering Love who sports first-time cheekpieces. Quoting handler Nicky Richards from the Weekender 04-08.12.19:

"He's a grand horse who has been very successful so far. He won four of his five point-to-points and began his chasing career on a very good mark last season... I think he could have another good winter given the rub of the green. He wants proper soft ground and stays well." 

Alminar won last time out and Financial Outcome has undergone wind surgery since finishing third behind Fortescue at Uttoxeter. Both are aged seven - only one seven-year-old has come home in front since Domaine De Pron won in 1998 - Portrait King in 2012.

Shanroe Santos is inconsistent but would have his chance on a going day while Very First Time didn't appear to stay when fourth behind Hugo 'N' Taz in the Lincolnshre National.

A most open affair; I'm considering two at a price. On his first run after wind surgery Donna's Delight won well from the front over three miles three at Ayr last time out. On a tenuous line through Lord Du Mesnil, Calipso Collonges has the beating of Sandy Thomson's charge.

At a much bigger price Ascot De Bruyere has a very good record at this track and on his only try beyond three miles finished a creditable sixth - beaten under 12 lengths - behind Harry The Viking in the 2018 Scottish Borders National at Kelso.

I still haven't forgiven myself for failing to look more closely at Smooth Stepper at Haydock last weekend (put off by those veterans' chase runs) so this week I'm going to take an each-way chance on Ascot de Bruyere and hope that, although a lot of his racing has been over two and half to three miles, he can see out the marathon trip in the manner he did at Kelso; Danny McMenamin does his bit for the cause by claiming three.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 28/1 and pay one fifth the odds five places. Ascot De Bruyere is the each-way suggestion.

Now, if only he could race in those 'magic' plates...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Haydock's Grand National Trial

There hasn't been an awful lot of racing this week and my bank balance looks all the better for it.

Tomorrow's cards hang in the balance with Storm Dennis threatening to bring heavy rain and strong winds; early morning inspections are scheduled at Ascot, Haydock, Wincanton and Lingfield.

The going at Haydock is currently heavy, soft in places on the hurdle course.

Eleven have been declared for the Unibet Grand National Trial Handicap chase at 3.15; Ballyoptic's preferred engagement is in the 2.25 at Ascot.

Course and distance winner Yala Enki finished third in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow over Christmas with The Two Amigos fifth, Elegant Escape sixth and Pobbles Bay eighth; this evening Paul Nicholls' charge heads the market but has been raised 15 pounds for winning at Taunton last month.

The Two Amigos raced enthusiastically from the front in the Welsh National and only faded coming to the last; the slightly shorter trip here may help.

There's a school of thought that Elegant Escape hit one up the home straight and that scuppered his chance. He faces a stiff task off top weight and his jumping is often littered with niggling errors; he underwent wind surgery last month.

Quoting Evan Williams in Straight from the Stable - Weekender 12-16.02.20:

"[Pobbles Bay] is a nice stayer but I think it is fair to say the handicapper has him where he wants at the moment. I thought he ran a lovely race in the Welsh National last time out when eighth, but in truth he wasn't good enough. We will look at the Haydock Grand National Trial next as the track and trip will suit him."

Both Pobbles Bay and Smooth Stepper race from out of the handicap.

Vintage Clouds won the Peter Marsh here four weeks ago (Geronimo third). He jumped with some zest that day, the best I've seen from Sue Smith's charge for some considerable time, but he has gone up 11 pounds while Geronimo is now one pound lower and weighted to reverse the form. All that said, Ryan Mania was hard at work some way from home on Geronimo...

Lord Du Mesnil won over course and distance last time out and the time before beat Vintage Clouds into third in the Tommy Whittle. On his seasonal debut at Stratford in October he started off a mark of 115; tomorrow he starts off 147 with Paul O'Brien able to claim three. No seven-year-old has won this in the past ten years.

One For Arthur won the National off this mark (148) three years ago and clearly retains ability; he underwent a wind operation in December and now sports cheekpieces for the first time. It looks as though connections are using this as a stepping stone to the Aintree showpiece in April so it's difficult to gauge how fit the horse is; last time out he finished just under seventeen lengths behind Walk In The Mill in the Becher Chase.

I'm not convinced Steely Addition will stay this trip in these conditions.

A rushed post. One For Arthur(10/1) is of interest each-way but, given the weather warnings, I'll wait until tomorrow before making any decision.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle 2020

On Thursday 7th October 2004 Reg Hollinshead, a trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent out filly Norma Hill to win the Ludlow Racing Partnership Juvenile Maiden Hurdle at odds of 25/1. I was at the Shropshire track that bucolic afternoon and clearly remember the filly set off in front; she never saw another runner.

On Wednesday 5th February 2020 Gay Kelleway, another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, sent Bolt N Brown to Ludlow to make all and win the Two C's Antiques Fillies' Juvenile Hurdle at odds of 25/1 (backed in from 40s); the appropriately named Eddie Edge claimed seven along with his first winner in public.

Insufficiently prescient, I only made the link between the events outlined above at around 7.20pm on Wednesday evening. Gentle sigh. Another 40/1 winner passes me by...

Hughie Morrison, yet another trainer renowned for feats on the Flat, will be hoping Not So Sleepy can make all to win tomorrow's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and land connections a bit more money than Reg or Gay managed up at Ludlow - and pocket a cool £100,000 bonus in the process.

Just to be clear, the layers won't be offering any fancy 40/1 prices; in addition, I suspect it's something of an understatement to say Not So Sleepy can be a bit of a handful. Jonathan Burke will be doing the steering - and not a lot else other than holding on for dear life - as Sleepy struts his stuff; the last day the pair nearly ended up going through the wing of a hurdle.

Sleepy comes into this following two runaway victories at Ascot. The first time he was afforded a soft lead and the handicapper raised him five to 127. The gelding repeated the trick four weeks later in a race once known as the Ladbroke Hurdle, beating Monsiuer Lecoq (an astonishing) nine lengths.

In the immediate aftermath of that race some commentators were a little sniffy about Sleepy's hurdling but others advised Mr Morrison to give the beast an entry in next months's Champion Hurdle and that's exactly what Mr Morrison did.  At the time of writing Not So Sleepy is a best-priced 25/1 for the feature race on the first day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Subsequently, the handicapper took a much closer look at the horse's rating after that second Ascot victory and raised him to a mark of 144 - a chunky 17 pound hike; the handler thinks this 'isn't huge'...

The horse I took out of the Ladbroke was Sir Valentine who suffered significant interference on the first bend and as a result quickly lost his position. Racing from the rear, he did well to make up ground from two out to finish a respectable third, beaten some 13 lengths (Whoshotthesheriff fifth, Tamaroc Du Matahan tailed off in tenth with Zanza falling at the fourth and bringing down Quoi De Neuf in the process).

Nigel Twiston-Davies has a decent recent record in this with Splash Of Ginge (2014), Ballyandy (2017) and Al Dancer (last year) all coming home in front but jockey bookings would appear to suggest that Sir Valentine's stablemate in the same ownership - Stolen Silver - is better fancied. He appeared to have a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Rossington Main at Haydock three weeks ago and now faces Thebannerkingrebel, third that day, nine pounds worse off.

It feels like a long time since we've seen genuine good ground and that will definitely suit the Emma Lavelle trained Highly Prized but he has been off the track a while and connections have nominated the Grand National meeting at Aintree in the spring as the ultimate target [Weekender Stable Tour 27.11.19 - 01.12.19].

Greatwood Hurdle form is always worth a second look. Harambe beat Gumball a neck with Quoi De Neuf fourth (beaten under two lengths) and Zanza sixth; Harambe has been raised seven pounds for that run, Quoi De Neuf four.   

Ecco has been on my radar and he has the right profile. The run at Cheltenham in November was a disappointment but he was better the next time behind Fred; his price has drifted steadily through the day. 

This is a fiercely competitive renewal; with 24 going to post, it's possible to make a case for several in the field. No horse older than six has won since Geos in 2004; over the past ten years Violet Dancer (2015) was the lowest rated winner (132) and Zarkander (2012) the highest (151).

Sky Bet, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfair all offer one fifth the odds six places.

The market indicates Mack The Man is the much better fancied of Evan Williams' two runners but Quoi De Neuf has the right profile and was unlucky to be brought down in the Ladbroke the last day.

With the booking of Brian Hughes catching the eye, Quoi De Neuf is the each-way suggestion, currently 20/1 with Sky Bet.

To finish, I received a mail earlier today from Epsom racecourse asking whether a trip to the Derby was on my bucket list. Give me a break - I haven't decided which Cheltenham preview night I'm going to yet...